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Two trustees want answers to King & MUST conflict questions

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POSTED May 13, 2011 1:32 a.m.

While the Manteca Unified School District’s legal counsel has answered some of the questions regarding Board of Trustee Wendy King’s alleged conflict of interest as a paid executive director of the non-profit Manteca Unified Student Trust, there are more related issues that need to be clarified.

These are based on the laundry list of questions brought up by Board of Trustees member Nancy Teicheira and Don Scholl at Tuesday’s board meeting. Their inquiries originated from information they just learned recently about King being paid $20,000 a year for her job that originally started as a volunteer stint with MUST, an organization established in 2006 as a way to fund after-school sports and other student programs affected by the district’s budget cuts. Teicheira and Scholl wanted to know: Since the Manteca Unified Board approved the creation of MUST under MUSD’s Policy No. 1260, doesn’t that constitute a conflict of interest for King by virtue of her paid position?

Other facts about MUST that came to light during the board meeting based on the findings made by Scholl and Teicheira:

• The district has authorized MUST to support unspecified student activities in the 2010-11 school year.

• MUST received $25,000 of MUSD funds in 2010-2011.

• MUST has, in the past, been using the district’s postage to send out letters for the MUST foundation.

• MUSD has loaned “front money” to MUST for the school district’s Veggie Express offered through the school district farm program, with the district paying for the farming equipment and seeds used, and then buys some of these produce from MUST for the schools’ lunch program. Veggie Express also sells the produce to anyone by way of a monthly “subscription.”

• MUST has been charging MUSD students participating in after-school sports programs “more than what it has cost to participate in (the district’s) sports programs, resulting in a “$50,000 overcharge” to the participating students. If that’s the case, Scholl and Teicheira wanted to know where the extra money is going or is being used.

Other MUST-related questions raised by Teicheira and Scholl which were either answered directly by the district’s attorney or were given insufficient responses:

• If MUST is receiving funds from MUSD, should MUST be required to follow the Brown Act since the funds are coming from a government agency (MUSD)? The school district’s legal counsel, James Scot Yarnell, responded to that in writing saying, “We are unable to conclusively determine this question without further information.” However, he prefaced that statement with an explanation about the requirements for conducting meetings to comply with the legal provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act. He stated: “The open meeting requirements of the Brown Act apply to subsidiary bodies, including private corporations (such as MUST) that are (1) created by elected legislative body in order to exercise authority that may be delegated by the elected body; OR (2) receive funds from a local agency and the subsidiary body’s governing board includes a member of the legislative body as a voting member.”

• Regarding the legality of fronting money as a loan to MUST for the Veggie Express program, Yarnell responded that he would need more information in order to “frame a response” to this question.

• The district’s legal counsel gave the same response to Teicheira and Scholl’s question about MUST’s alleged $50,000 overcharge to students participating in the foundation’s after-school program during the 2010-2011 school year.

While the issue over King’s perceived conflict of interest was clarified at the board meeting, the board still voted 6-0 (with King recusing herself from the voting for her involvement with MUST) to forward a complaint to the State Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento. The “appearance of impropriety” by King could be erased, according to Yarnell, by recusing herself from discussions involving MUST and stating the reason for her action. To correct that “appearance of impropriety” at a previous meeting of the board in October 2010 when King recused herself but did not state the reason during a discussion of the district’s financial contribution to MUST, Yarnell said the board simply has to bring back that item before the board and have King’s action follow the proper procedure this time which will be reflected in the minutes of the meeting.

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